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Forest residents still fighting for intervention in wind farm case

Bright yellow “No Turbines” yard signs dot the landscape at various properties in the Town of Forest where Highland Wind Farm hopes to construct a 44-turbine wind farm. (Photo by Micheal Foley)

Last Wednesday, more than 50 residents from the Town of Forest listened as attorneys representing the town, Highland Wind Farm LLC, the Forest Voice Inc., and the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin (PSC) presented arguments in St. Croix County Circuit Court before Judge Edward Vlack regarding a motion initially filed on March 19 by attorney Peter McKeever on behalf of the Forest Voice to intervene in the ongoing case of The Town of Forest vs. Public Service Commission of Wisconsin. The case involves a petition filed in January by the Town of Forest asking the court to review the Oct. 25, 2013, ruling by the PSC to allow Highland Wind Farm to construct a 44-turbine wind farm in the Town of Forest.

Wednesday’s hearing allowed attorneys for all parties to present arguments as to why or why not to allow the Forest Voice to intervene in the ongoing case. A positive ruling by Vlack would allow the Forest Voice to file a brief in the judicial review being sought by the Town of Forest. The motion to intervene presented by attorney Peter McKeever stems from a 20-day deadline missed by The Forest Voice back in February to be included as a party in the petition for review.

“This fight had cost the residents of Forest, members and supporters of the Forest Voice and others who are not, a lot of money to fight for the cause back when the original decision came down in support of the PSC’s decision to allow the wind farm. When the Town of Forest filed their petition for judicial review, we were simply out of money. We needed time to decide what we were going to do and to raise more money. So we missed the 20-day time limit to become a party to the case,” said Benda Salseg, spokesperson for the Forest Voice.

“The Forest Voice represents the people most affected by the wind farm, and they deserve to have their voice represented in this case. A technicality is being argued to prevent them from becoming a party to the case for judicial review and from being able to file a brief in that case,” said Peter McKeever, attorney for the Forest Voice.

“If another party without any history in this case petitioned to intervene at this point, they would legally be allowed to do so without any opposition. The missed deadline is the only issue preventing the Forest Voice from doing so,” added McKeever.

Speaking on behalf of Highland Wind Farm, attorney Michael Screnock said, “The statute is very clear. Under Chapter 227 of the Wisconsin statues, appeals of an administrative decision, which is what we are dealing with here, the PSC has rendered a final decision and the Town of Forest has sought judicial review of that decision, any party that participated in front of the Public Service Commission, can participate in a judicial review proceeding, as a matter of right. But to do so they needed to serve the Town of Forest with a Notice of Appearance and Statement of Position within 20 days after the town provided their petition for review. The Public Service Commission as an agency, did that, Highland Wind Farm did that as the applicant and Forest Voice did not, and it acknowledges it did not. The Wisconsin Supreme Court has determined that these time provisions are mandatory and that the consequence for failing to meet those time constraints is that you cannot participate in the circuit court proceeding.

Screnock added, “Highland’s interest is in getting a final decision from the court in a timely fashion and that the more parties that are involved in the circuit court proceedings the greater the opportunity for delay or for the raising of issues that wouldn’t properly be in front of the court.” Following arguments, Vlack indicated he would review the file and issue a written decision but gave no indication as to when he would do so.